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Monday , October 14 2019

Close, ‘Beale’ win indie film honors

Barry Jenkins accepts the award for best director for ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ at the 34th Film Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, Feb. 23, in Santa Monica, Calif. (AP)

Spirit Awards showcase Oscar players

LOS ANGELES, Feb 24, (RTRS): Actress Glenn Close and racial injustice movie “If Beale Street Could Talk” were the big winners on Saturday at the Independent Spirit Awards, a day ahead of the Oscars ceremony.

Mexican family drama “Roma,” which is seen as a strong contender for best picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday, won the Spirit award for best international film.

The Spirit Awards are the annual honors given to Hollywood’s low-budget movies made for under $20 million.

Close, 71, won the best actress award for playing a submissive spouse who finally finds her voice in “The Wife.” She has also emerged as the favorite to win the Oscar on Sunday for her role in the movie.

“It’s a lovely thing to do before the Oscars,” Close said on the red carpet on a sunny day in the beach city of Santa Monica.I

“If Beale Street Could Talk” — based on late writer James Baldwin’s tender 1974 novel about a young New York couple whose lives are wrecked when the man is imprisoned for a rape he did not commit — came away as the biggest winner.

The film took the Spirit Award for best feature film, best supporting actress for Regina King, and best director for Barry Jenkins, whose last film, “Moonlight,” won the best picture Oscar two years ago.

Winners often go onto success at the Academy Awards the following day. King’s performance as a mother seeking justice for her son-in-law is seen as a strong contender in the supporting actress Oscar category, although “If Beale Street Could Talk” failed to get a best picture Oscar nomination.

On Saturday, Richard E. Grant was named best supporting actor for his role in literary drama “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, boosting his profile for the Oscars where he is also nominated.

Ethan Hawke was named best actor for religious drama “First Reformed.”

Five of the last eight best feature winners at the annual Film Independent Spirit Awards have gone on to win best picture at the Oscars, including a four-year streak from 2013-2016. It was a steadily evolving status quo that led former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences governor Bill Mechanic to question his organization’s selections in a scathing resignation letter last April.

“Over the past decade we have nominated so many smaller independent films that the Oscars feel like they should be handed out in a tent,” the former Fox honcho wrote to AMPAS president John Bailey, referencing the Spirit Awards, which are held in a large tent on the beach in Santa Monica. “Big is not inherently bad and small is not inherently good.”

Nominations

This year’s Oscar nominations must have been music to Mechanic’s ears. Chart-busting studio hits like “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born” made the best picture lineup, along with Universal’s “Green Book,” a strong contender to win. None, however, were eligible at the Spirit Awards due to budget eligibility restraints. That left the independent filmmaking showcase free to be itself without the specter of Sunday’s 91st Academy Awards hanging too heavy over the festivities.

Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” won top honors for best feature and best director Saturday, plus a supporting award for Regina King. The film did not manage a best picture nomination, but then, none in the Spirits lineup did. That was already a first in 10 years. The category was also free of any big-studio, or even studio-dependent, interlopers; A24 (twice), Bleecker Street and Amazon joined Annapurna in the field.

Throughout the afternoon, there was a good balance of victories for the Oscar-nominated and -rebuffed alike. Of the year’s Academy players, Glenn Close (“The Wife”), Richard E. Grant (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) nabbed acting honors. Close and King are even favorites to win Oscars. Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” took the screenplay prize. (Jenkins, though not Oscar-nominated for directing “Beale Street,” is in the mix for adapted screenplay along with Heller’s film.)

Ethan Hawke missed an Oscar bid for Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed,” but he wrapped up a season of countless regional critics best-actor prizes by adding a Spirit Award to the tally. (Hawke was a no-show Saturday due to stage commitments with “True West” on Broadway. Co-star Amanda Seyfried accepted in his stead and delivered a thoughtful, very Hawke-like address.)

Craft winners “Suspiria” (cinematography) and “You Were Never Really Here” (editing) aren’t in the mix for Oscars, nor, shockingly, is documentary champ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” (First-timer victors Boots Riley and Bo Burnham competed in fields free of Oscar players as well.)

So Sunday’s ceremony won’t feel the least bit stale, and it also brings with it those populist heavy-hitters, putting a punctuation mark on a season that nearly saw a special Oscar carved out for their ilk. Moreover, a foreign-language film released by a streaming service that has reported no box office is the overall favorite to win Hollywood’s highest honor. “Roma,” the consensus critics selection this year, was only eligible for the international film prize at the Spirits, keeping it out of the indies’ hair for the most part.

On that note, though, Cuaron did seem to suggest something profound, that whatever potential cinematic revolution may be afoot — be it inclusion in front of and behind the camera, the elevation of underrepresented voices or, indeed, evolving distribution methods — it has the potential to erase borders.

“We are currently experiencing a great diversity in cinema,” Cuaron said. “Very soon that diversity will make this category irrelevant.”

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